Wonder Woman: The Complexity of George Pérez’s Female Characters

This post is part of A Year Of Wonder, How to Love Comics’ big celebration of Wonder Woman’s 80th anniversary. Find out more and read other posts in this series.

Wonder Woman wasn’t on my radar when I started reading comics as a kid. My brothers had issues of Spawn and Batman for me to read, and then later in life, I got obsessed with manga. It wasn’t until I saw Wonder Woman on screen that I actually wanted to read her comics – I think that happened with a lot of viewers. So I did what came naturally to me, and researched with the power of Google. That’s where I found a lot of people, including How to Love Comics, who spoke about George Pérez.

Needless to say, I went into a black hole of information with interviews of him and his life works but more importantly, I inhaled his issues of Wonder Woman. 

Some of George Pérez’s Wonder Woman comics have been explained before on How to Love Comics but I’ll run down the cliff notes of it as well. 

George Pérez was at the height of his career when he took on Diana Prince’s story in 1987. He was just coming off of being the artist of New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths so he could probably have taken on any character’s story but he took on Wonder Woman.

Her backstory was quite confusing with quite a bit of inconsistency as new variations came around. When George Pérez started to take the reins of her reboot, he lead with purpose and direction. He delved deeper into Greek mythology and breathed life into her legend that was only hinted at before.

What fascinated me was the complexity of his female characters. Not just Diana herself, but the Amazonians, side characters, and even the Goddesses were given a layer that wasn’t typically seen in media at the time. Hera, Zeus’s wife, has a line that left me grinning from ear to ear, she says, “Thus I let my love for Zeus affect my judgment.  That has always been his power over me…I either act because of my devotion to him or because he has once again betrayed that devotion. But perhaps it’s time for a change.” As someone who loves stories in general, these moments left me absolutely fixated. It’s not often you see this kind of complexity portrayed in women. But with George Pérez’s work, I didn’t see one dimensional depictions of the ladies, I saw women with agency.

Whereas most women portrayed in media, especially for the time, were sidelined as a love interest or watered down to just her looks or behavior. There was a representation, a certain submissiveness in being a woman, a damsel in distress archetype that was everywhere and is still shown today that you can’t get away from, even if it’s frustrating to read and see.

But here, Diana was the Amazonian Princess, who had virtually no Achilles heel and objectively no physical weakness. It would take a great effort to take her down. She can stand toe-to-toe with Gods and win.

Wonder Woman #11 art by George Perez.
Wonder Woman #11 art by George Perez.

That’s just talking about Wonder Woman’s natural strength, speed, and combat skills. Her mental strength is something else entirely. Wonder Woman’s belief in the good of humanity, sensitivity, and kindness radiates off the page.

Early on in Pérez’s run, Wonder Woman forms a close bond with professor Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa. In a journal entry, Kapatelis notes that Diana didn’t want to be a part of the Justice League; “She told me she didn’t believe the point of her mission to Man’s World was to become a costumed crimefighter. That, she said, implied violence condoned by society in the name of order. Apparently, crime is unknown on Paradise Island, and order there is a state of mutual respect and love.” Diana’s belief has always been about love and kindness and she wants the world to hold that belief in the highest regard as well.

Wonder Woman isn’t without flaws either, she makes mistakes but she learns and adapts, that’s a mark of great writing. Character growth. Diana doesn’t stagnate and pretend to know everything, she changes with her circumstances.

I love Wonder Woman’s characterization in the films but I see why she was an icon before them, and why she connected and touched the hearts of many women of different ages and backgrounds. Wonder Woman became a name known around the world, and finally, there was an extraordinary female warrior who could be looked up to as a role model. She could be pointed out as a woman who feels emotions on various scales like rage, heartache, confusion, and grief. Diana embraces her emotions but is never labeled as hysterical or demeaned for those feelings. She can cry just as easily as she can fight. It’s rare to find that sort of thought-out female character.

The female characters, just as the men, have so much personality to them. Even the villains have noteworthy arcs, and you could read through the comic and pick someone you could relate to on any page. It’s definitely some incredible writing, so it comes as no surprise that George Pérez has been deemed a legend.

I’ll leave you with words from George Pérez himself done in an interview in 2017 with Syfy Wire.

Even though she’s an icon, she’s an inspiration, she’s also human. She’s flawed. And she will make mistakes, she will sometimes act with her heart, not her head or she will make mistakes because she doesn’t understand things-The emphasis on her heroism being a person that will fight through her fears and if she makes a mistake will learn from them and carry on as a wiser person.

George Perez had a hand in writing or drawing Wonder Woman from issues #1 (1987 series) to #62. These have been collected in the Wonder Woman by George Perez series of trade paperbacks and hardcovers. You can find them in all good comic book shops, book stores, online stores, eBay, and digitally on Comixology.

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